• February 1, 2015
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Gloomy CRM Forecasts Lead to New Opportunities

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I'm fascinated by messaging logic that pops up from technology vendors from time to time, particularly those in the realm that I reside in—the customer-facing one. Every now and then, there is a buzz that gets increasingly louder until it finally goes away. This buzz typically is a variation on the monotonous refrain of "CRM is dead."

It's usually followed by whatever the company proclaiming its death is pushing at the moment. At one point, years ago, it was customer experience applications that the market demanded since "CRM had failed/died"; another time, e-marketing was going to replace it. More recently, it was being replaced by e-commerce, order management, or customer engagement. Usually it's being replaced by something the particular vendor is attempting to be the alpha dog of.

Interestingly and rather tellingly, in all the cases, despite the papal declarations of the specific vendors, the CRM market continued to thrive and, as we begin 2015, it is still doing so, growing year over year.

Look, I don't care if vendors want to claim CRM is dead, but it has to be defensible and consistent with their philosophical and practical actions. Historically, every single vendor that claimed this changed its tune and stopped claiming it. Presently, there are one or two that are currently claiming it.

The problem that these vendors have always had is that it is an indefensible claim.

Let's set the stage and look at why they feel they can make this claim and what their fallacy is.

Act I: The reality of CRM was narrower than the hope for it

The problem that CRM has always had is that our expectations for it have been so much greater than what we actually got out of it. Many of us (and I plead guilty here big time) expected CRM to be more than technology and systems, seeing it as a philosophy and strategy and set of programs to engage with customers and help improve our chances to increase their transactions with us and to stay happy with us. For all intents and purposes, under the rubric of CRM, people in the industry would develop programs and strategies to do that.

But the people who wanted to buy CRM were convinced that CRM was defined by its technology and processes, and the strategy and programs were something else and not related to what they saw as CRM. The technology vendors supported this worldview, because it was in their interests to do so. It's not the wrong thing to do—who doesn't support their own interests? But it narrowed the scope of CRM from what it was intended to be—a broad and encompassing customer-facing business model with strategies, programs, systems, and technologies associated with cultural change and transformation—to a set of technologies and systems that enabled the operational aspects of sales, marketing, and customer service.

Act II: Nonetheless, CRM has always been a valuable and necessary technology offering

Regardless of whether or not you like CRM, you most likely need CRM technologies. On the sales side, these technologies provide a systematic way to organize and manage your opportunities, accounts, contacts, and, if you are at the management level, your sales pipeline. They aid you in forecasting revenues and help you understand the individual performances of your salespeople. CRM technologies help your salespeople develop quotes and manage their day-to-day activities. On the marketing side, they enable you to create and manage campaigns in pretty much any channel and to value, assess, and deploy your marketing assets more effectively. They handle demand generation so that you can identify and convert leads. The technologies provide you with tools to target and personalize messages to individuals or groups of customers. On the customer service side, they help you coordinate and, eventually—hopefully—successfully settle service cases. They provide a repository for knowledge that agents and customers can access to settle issues before they have a 

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